Why I Won’t Post Negative Reviews

Articles, General — By on April 28, 2010 8:24 am

Why I Won’t Post Negative Reviews

So much has been said about how Jewish music reviews aren’t real reviews.  How, in general, they are overly positive and tout every CD as being “amazing” and “ground breaking” when nothing could be farther from the truth.  How they aren’t honest and are just marketing tools to promote a particular singer or group.

I can’t speak for anyone else out there, but I can tell you my philosophy on reviewing CDs.

First of all, reviewing an album is serious business.  Think about how many hours went into producing that CD.  The investment of both time and money that putting out a CD entails.  When reviewing a CD, I definitely feel a responsibility to all those involved in the album to be fair, open minded and honest.  Producers, singers, composers, engineers, musicians, so many people put so much effort into that disc that you are holding in your hands.

At the same time, I feel an even greater responsibility to the reader.  If I review a CD and say that it is great, someone out there may decide to go out and buy that album, based on my say so.  And if the album isn’t any good, I just caused someone to take $18 and throw it in the garbage.

Let’s say an album is really, really bad.  I should be able to come out and say just that.  Artists need to know that we, the listening public, aren’t going to tolerate mediocre music and that they need to put out a quality product if they want us to buy their music.   So why shouldn’t I be allowed to say that an album is awful if it really is?

The answer is very simple, for me at least.  When I started writing for Jewish Music Report, I asked my Rav what I am and am not allowed to write.   The answer was quite clear.  I can’t say anything negative, because that would be lashon hara.  Now before everyone out there starts attacking me and telling me that I am wrong, this was the answer I got from my Rabbi who is very well versed in the laws of Shmiras Halashon.  Maybe yours will tell you differently, but this is what I was told and, therefore, what I need to do.

Does that mean I have to say everything is good?  Of course not.  If I don’t like a CD, and I should mention right now that I am very, very critical when it comes to music, I won’t review it.  And even good albums can have bad songs.  I try to gloss over those as best as I can and try to highlight the songs I really did enjoy.  If a particular  artist were to ask me what I thought of their album, if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have a problem telling them the truth, in private.  But to broadcast my criticism in a public forum?  Sorry, no can do.

I am never anything less than honest.  I will never say that I liked a CD when I didn’t.   I may rave about one album, while giving a more lukewarm review to a CD that was good, but not great.    I don’t get paid to do this so I don’t owe anything to anyone.  I won’t allow any producer or any artist to dictate what I write.  If I tell you I liked an album or a particular song, then I really did. I literally spend hours on every review and I won’t write anything I don’t believe in.

But my hands are tied here, I am simply not allowed to say that an album, a song or a singer is bad.

Does that make me a bad reviewer?  Maybe.  But I can live with that.   In truth, my posts aren’t really reviews, but overviews of CDs that I enjoyed.  Just know this:  while I will only write about albums I like, I won’t tell you every album is “a must buy”,“the best album I have ever heard” and “unlike anything that has ever been done before”.  I will try my best to give an honest overview of every album, highlighting the best parts and offering suggestions for things I might have done differently in as positive a way as possible.

I also strongly suggest that you don’t buy an album based on what you read online.  In this day and age, it is so easy to hear the music before you buy it.  Listen to the samplers online.  Tune into Nachum Segal, shmaisradio.com or jewishbroadcast.com.  They are always playing new music and you can hear full songs there.  Go to your local Jewish music store and spend some time at the listening station so you can decide for yourself if you like a CD or not.  Make your decision based on music that you yourself have heard, not on reviews that you read online.

It’s your money.  Decide for yourself which albums you want to spend it on.

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28 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    I totally agree with you! Imagine the consequences if a reviewer that was read by many said that a CD was “horrible”. Many people wouldn’t buy it! And just because I may dislike a CD doesn’t mean that it’s objectively horrible (especially because I just love to listen to music but don’t know anything about it…can’t even really tell if someone is singing on key…lol). But there are CDs that don’t get good reviews but I love… everyone has different taste.

    I once read a review of a Jewish CD where the reviewer did give an overall good review but there were a few songs that instead of saying “Not my taste” “Not my favorite” “Not as good as the others” said something like “Terrible”. Like you said, a lot went into making those songs. And I might like them. It made me really uncomfortable to be honest.

    So sorry for ranting, but I completely agree lol

  2. Michel says:

    I don’t write negative reviews for a different reason. I only listen to artists i like so when i review a CD by them 99% of it will be positive. Great article though, keep up the good work.

  3. Sheichet says:

    Enjoyed this article. I’d like to add to it by giving bekitzur what my philosophy is on the same subject.

    I have a similar approach, but maybe from a slightly different angle. Beyond the important halachik issues of not lying but at the same time not hurting people, for me it comes down to simple practicality. Many people might take reviews for granted. However, anyone who has ever written one (or recorded one as is sometimes the case with me) realizes that it takes more time that most people would think to put the whole thing together from start to finish. I have KA”H 4 kids, 3 jobs, a volunteer job, 2 vlogs and 2 music projects on my plate. I have more things to do than I have time for as it is. That said, why would I steal time from things that are important to me to review something I don’t even like. For me to take that kind of time out, I have to really like, if not love the album. If not, why waste my time with it? I’d be wasting the viewer/reader’s time as well because who wants to listen to someone talk about something that doesn’t excite them? Like Kol Isha, I too bring up negative points in my reviews, but in my opinion (and similar to what Kol Isha is saying) I don’t feel that to be an issue when it’s in the context of “I love this album, but here’s what I would have done different and/or would like to see on the next one”.

  4. Dovid says:

    ….and if we dont like your reviews , we dont have to read them. But we do because , chances are, if you say we will enjoy it–we will.
    You give practical advice….and are not hurting anyone….What could be bad,,,,

  5. Out of Towner says:

    Kol Isha, once again you are right on! Keep up the great work!

  6. Yehuda says:

    when you read a “review” online, in general you are expecting the negative to posted as well as the positive. (whether it is for food, electronics or anything else.)
    So while what you say is fair enough, it can be a bit misleading. Why not just rename your “reviews” to “What I like about this Album.”

    Also, while i applaud your efforts to rid JM reviews from tired cliches, I challenge you to review something without using a food metaphor. Yisroel Williger is like potato kugel? Really? :-)

  7. Kol Isha says:

    Yehuda: Appreciate the constructive criticism. You are 100% right. I am seriously thinking about NOT calling them reviews. Maybe “overview”. “What I liked about this album” is to the point, but a little long.

    And do I really use a lot of food metaphors? Will definitely keep an eye on it. Thanx for pointing it out!

  8. joel says:

    In my opinion the greatest critic of anything, Roger Ebert put out a little rule book for reviewing something.
    Be prepared to give a negative review. If you give one to the work of a friend, and they’re not your friend any more, they weren’t ever your friend. As Robert Altman once told me, “If you never gave me a bad review, what would a good review mean?” He was a great man. He thought over what he had said, and added: “But all your bad reviews of my films have been wrong.”

    We had this conversation before. We’ve agreed that you aren’t a real critic because you never say anything negative. Honestly, this entire website is another mouthpiece for the industry. Everything is peaches and cream. That is ok but its not honest, and certainly not journalism.
    If anyone would come out with anything honest about the industry he would be chased away, just like they chased away others.

  9. Kol Isha says:

    Ah, Joel….I knew we would be hearing from you. I would have been disappointed if you didn’t post a comment on this post. You are right, we have been down this road before and it is clear that you and I are going to have to agree to disagree. But having said that, your lovely comment deserves more of a response than that.

    1) I am so grateful you are bringing me raayos from Roger Ebert. Last I checked, he wasn’t my Daas Torah. Is he yours?
    2) The concept of a review, or even just a blog runs counter to Yiddishkeit. As frum Jews, as ehrliche people, we don’t get to just say whatever we want.
    3) I am NOT a critic. Period. Halacha doesn’t allow me to do that, certainly not in a public forum.
    4) I take offense when you make statements like “If anyone would come out with anything honest about the industry.” By saying that, you are saying that everything I say IS dishonest.
    5) This website is NOT journalism nor is it a forum for any writers to list their likes and dislikes. You think I like everything that is out there? You think I am buddies with the bigwigs in the music industry? I promise you there are quite a few CDs I could write scathing reviews about because they just aren’t up to par. Would that make you happy? Sorry, it is the man upstairs who tells me what I can and cannot do. Not you and certainly not Roger Ebert.
    6) “Honestly, this entire website is another mouthpiece for the industry. Everything is peaches and cream. That is ok but its not honest, and certainly not journalism.” Ok, Joel, listen up. JMR is not a mouthpiece for the industry – it is simply a website where people who love Jewish music can find out the latest and greatest in Jewish music. If you find the website to be dishonest and think that we are just a mouthpiece for the industry, I have to wonder why you even bother coming to JMR in the first place.

  10. Sara says:

    Kol Isha, I agree with alot of what you said and I always appreciate your reviews. However, Joel’s comment about JMR being a mouthpiece for the industry is something that I have heard more than once and I’ve always been curious about it. It doesn’t change my view of this great website for us music lovers but is it the 100% emes that this site is completely independant from the big music dealers? I noticed that the site gets face time on Mostlymusic which we all know is Aderet’s website, and they even have a ad on their site saying “Jewish Music Report- Sponsored by MostlyMusic.” Is there an explanation for that?

  11. Kol Isha says:

    Sara: If you look at the sidebar on JMR you will see that the site has a number of sponsors who take out ad space, one of which is Mostly Music.

    I think part of the confusion stems from the fact that while JMR does post reviews that are written by the reviewers, we also post press releases and such from artists. We don’t write them, the artists or their publicists do and those tend to be the items that say “prepare to blown away by the best album you have ever heard!” You can see those items on many music sites, not just JMR.

    Why do we post PR for the artists? Plain and simple. Because our readers want to know what is up and coming. A particular singer/group/choir has a new album or a concert, they drum up publicity and one of the ways they do that is be sending releases out to all the music sites.

    Reviews and opinion pieces are purely the thoughts of our staff and those tend to be far less of the “omg, the best song I ever heard in my entire life!!” variety.

  12. Joel says:

    Kol Isha your points are noted. The bottom line is that there is a climate of dishonesty is the jewish music blogosphere. Recently one of the bigger artists produced an album that was a total dud. Everyone I spoke to said it was terrible. One lackluster review on this site and the one blogger who stated the truth was threatened by the suits in the industry. This performer is so big that a few negative reviews will not tarnish his rep or affect his wallet.
    The biggest jewish music blogger was threatened by the suits because he was too honest so he shut his blog down. That is not very frum. By the way why do you and everyone else her other than Mendel the Shecheit hide other the guise of anonymity. Whats the big deal about being a jm enthusiast. Will it affect your children’s shidduchim? Doubtful.
    To be quite honest the reason I check out this site is because I love jewish music, and its the closest thing to real criticism there is. I used to frequent life of Rubin, but he closed up and Yk’s blog but he posts infrequently. I would write my own blog but I am afraid of the backlash I would get if I said one of the top names in Jewish music today put out a bad cd.

  13. Efriam Weinfeld says:

    Question: Ever heard of the din in lashon horah known as “Litoeles”? That basically means, in a nutshell, that when the supposed slander is to help avoid a loss, monetary or otherwise, it is muttar. So in a sense Joel actually would be right. In this case Roger Ebert is kosher.

  14. SteveW says:

    Perhaps it would be wise if you would write a disclaimer on PR posts, saying that they don’t necessarily reflect the opinion of JMR.

  15. Yehuda says:

    Re: JMR being a mouthpiece:

    I know for certain that another site’s reviews are edited (censured?) by “the music industry.” That blogger does it so he can continue to receive free samples etc.

    So you can’t blame us readers for being skeptical about your “honesty,” though – to be fair – I have no knowledge of any of your reviews being edited.

  16. Kol Isha says:

    Joel: I hear what you are saying, but I can’t take responsibility for a climate of dishonesty that, to date, has nothing to do with me. I don’t know how is in cahoots with who or who feels a hischayvus to either malign or kiss up to someone else.

    My role here is very simple: if there is something music related out there that I liked or that I feel has value, I will write about it. If there is a general issue that I feel the need to discuss I will do exactly that, without naming names.

    But be very, very clear on one point. If you are looking for criticism on an album or a particular performer, this isn’t the site you are going to find it on. Not because any of us owe anything to anyone but because we are just not interested in criticizing anyone in a public forum. It is just not what we do here at JMR.

    As always, so glad for your comments. It is always good to hear from you, even though we don’t always agree on things!

  17. Out of Towner says:

    Joel: I know some of the bloggers on this site want to be anonymous (including me) and some don’t. I can only speak about me. I am not afraid of anyone coming after me, but since most of you reading this don’t know who I am anyways why should it make a difference. My kids are way too young for shidduchim so that’s not the reason.

    Efriam: Litoeles would actually work against you. If someone gives a negative review, the people who invested time and money to produce the CD would lose thousands of dollars, while if you would buy the CD based on the review and not end up liking it, it would cost you max $18-$20 (and I know you can get it cheaper…. ;)). And the comment about Roger Ebert….email me and I’ll let you know more about our local movie reviewer….

    Yehuda: As someone who has written a review for this website I can attest to the fact that my review was not censored at all. I was able to write what I wanted, and while keeping it positive, it gave my honest opinion on the CD, and was not over the top at all. I also have not received any free CDs through JMR or directly from the producers, in order to give a favorable review. I hope, for their sakes, that they don’t even know I exist!

    Have an awesome shabbos everybody!

  18. Kol Isha says:

    Efraim: You seem to be saying that criticizing an album is l’toeles, because it will save someone money by not buying an album they won’t like. Just because I didn’t like something doesn’t mean that you won’t. So my criticizing an album may cause an artist to lose money by you not buying the album, when in fact you may very well like it. The point is here for you to make your own informed decision. Listen online, at a listening station or borrow an album from a friend. But don’t let someone else make up your mind for you!

    Yehuda: The day ANYONE edits my reviews is the day I stop writing them. My reviews are my opinions and mine alone. I don’t consult with any of the other writers and there is no one censoring any of our writers. If other bloggers want to let someone else control their site, kol hakavod. But not on JMR.

  19. Efriam Weinfeld says:

    Thereby questioning the exact purpose of your reviews (and all the ones on here). If noone should base their opinions on others, why are we reading the reviews. Oh, I have know idea who Roger is I just sa the other dude mention him.

  20. Kol Isha says:

    Efraim: I may be wrong, but I was under the impression that people like to read them. Doesn’t mean they should spend their hard earned cash based on my say so. Remember, we are talking opinions here, not fact.

  21. Chana says:

    First of all, Kol Isha, unrelated to the above mentioned various forms of flattery – I really do enjoy reading most of your reviews!!!

    Now, to the matter at hand.

    I have no idea about the industry, I don’t know anyone in the industry, I don’t anyone that has connections to the industry (Ok, thats a lie – my freinds-neighbours-cousins-sons-son-in-law was once in Miami boys choir).

    I understand, you are following what your Rav told you to do, that is great really, except, what you are calling negative – perhaps alot of people view that as honest???!!!!

    About 2 years ago ( wide time frame – don’t remember exact details ) there was a big hullabaloo about a new singer coming out with a debut album. Oh the fuss, the whispering, the snippets of information, the advertising, the you tubing – you name it!!

    In the end, the album was released – waaaaaay after it was supposed to have been, I ran to the store to buy it and guess what? Its sitting here, next to me, on the CD rack and I only managed to get to track number 3, know why? coz it sucks, thats why!!!!!!!! So you might say, its my personal opinion ( which is true ) but it also turned out to be lots n’ lots of other peoples personal opinions.

    The singer has an OK voice at best, the songs were what I term as ‘Pareve’ (oops, food reference) and many people, myself included has wasted our money on music bigwig’s pet-money-making-project and there was noone to talk to!!!!!!!!!!

    I don’t buy the lame excuse that we end up only spending $18/20 – My money is hard earned and I like to get my money’s worth!!!!!

  22. Kol Isha says:

    Chana: Here is what I am calling negative: me saying “I hated this song.” “This CD is awful.” “What was he thinking by using this song?” . It may be completely honest, but I just can’t say it. At least that is the psak I got. If someone else gets a different psak from their Rov, kol hakavod, but I have to do what I was told.

    I promise you, I am not one of those people who loves every song/album they hear. I can think of at least 4 albums this past year or so that I have refused to review because I hated them.

    And I am with you 100% on hating to spend money on bad albums. Years ago it bothered me to spend 10 bucks on a cassette that only had one or two decent songs. Now that a CD costs about 18 bucks where I live, it bugs me even more.

    Which makes me grateful for the listening stations at my local seforim store. The sample clips that you hear online. Hearing songs on Nachum Segal’s show and any of the music streams that are out there. I am not spending my money on anything unless I have a reason to. I have also borrowed CDs from friends to listen to before I make a purchase.

    It is your money. Ignore the hype that the singer’s publicists put out. Listen for yourself and make your own decision. No one else can decide what you will like.

  23. Chana says:

    First of all, thanx for responding.

    Second of all, the point I’m trying to make here is that its ok for the music industry/hyped-up PR guy/you pick da name to push the new album on the general public – apparantly, all means are Kosher but if someone ( who has heard the CD mind you) writes his honest opinion he is liable for lawsuits/slander/to be bashed-smashed and meatballed?????

    You Chunderstand me?

  24. Kol Isha says:

    Chana: I definitely hear what you are saying. Here I am being vigilant to make sure everything I say is on the up and up while it seems like the marketing/producers/singers are just spouting hyperbole at every moment, just to sell a product.

    Maybe I am naive, but I am guessing that people involved in a project aren’t being objective and they truly believe they have something worthwhile.

    I can only responsible for my little piece of the process – making sure that what I right is glatt and ehrlich.

    As with any other product, the consumer needs to decide where they want to spend their hard earned money. At the risk of repeating myself, as with any other purchase, do your homework before you part with a single penny. There are so many ways to hear at least part of a CD in advance. Take advantage and spend wisely.

    Don’t fall for the hype – judge for yourself!!

  25. Efriam weinfeld says:

    Hmmm… Opinion not fact. Well if we shouldn’t base our purchasing on your opinions whats the difference if you write negative? The artist wont lose money. Instead I’m gonna have to say that opinions of reviewers should be based upon (it is your job) and should be honest as possible

  26. Kol Isha says:

    Just because people shouldn’t base their opinions on what they read doesn’t mean they aren’t swayed by what they hear/read from others.

    And I take issue with you saying I should be as “honest as possible”. I am ALWAYS honest. If I don’t think an album has merit I won’t review it at all. Anything I write about is something I think is worth listening to.

  27. That tune is absolutely amazing!

  28. MordyK says:

    AWESOME reviews!! And agreed that you cant bash a CD. Readers should just realize that you’re stating YOUR opinion, and therefore shouldnt get annoyed at you if they disagree.
    The question is, (I assume you’ve asked your Rav…) what’s the line for loshon hora? What I mean is, is it loshon hara for you did write a supporting review of a CD but say it didn’t suit you’re personal taste? Or do you have to assume that readers are taking you’re personal feelings about it into their consideration of whether or not to buy a CD? If you like (or dislike) a specific style, are you allowed to give an accurate (flattering) review, (even saying that it was well organized, and musically put-together nicely, etc.) but still say it wasn’t you’re style?

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